Groups: NOAA labeling may be redundant, unhelpful
The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) potentially threw its hat into the sustainability certification ring earlier this week when it announced it was seeking comments on a proposal to establish its own certification program, complete with labeling.
In a prior interview with SeafoodSource, NOAA Fisheries Deputy Administrator Sam Rauch said NOAA is taking comments until 30 April. Right now, the proposed program appears to offer labeling at the buyer level, not for consumers.
American seafood producers already have the option of seeking certification and labeling from a number of private groups, including the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Friend of the Sea and the Alaska-based Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) program. While many of these groups have reserved comment until NOAA divulges more about what it has in mind, many told SeafoodSource they questioned whether NOAA needed such a program, and whether having one would matter much on the international level.
"It would not be perceived as an independent certification," said Paolo Bray, founder and director of Friend of the Sea.
Bray said he respected NOAA as "one of the best" when it comes to assessing and regulating fisheries, but his organization has certified 400 companies in 50 countries, and few of those countries have actually tried to set up a government-sponsored sustainability program. Two that have — Iceland and Japan — have not been taken very seriously by the international community since they are too closely connected with the seafood's country of origin, Bray said.
"All the examples have shown that these labels are not necessarily successful," he said.
Gavin Gibbons, director of media relations for the McLean, Va.-based National Fisheries Institute (NFI), noted that NOAA already has a worldwide reputation for accuracy, and a NOAA-sponsored program would gain more traction in international markets.
"NOAA's standards are globally recognized," he said.
Gibbons, however, questioned whether a sustainability certification program from NOAA would be redundant.
"They're essentially already doing that, and we're paying for it, it's just promoting that's been missing from the equation," he said.
Gibbons was unsure if NFI was planning on submitting a comment. Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which oversees the RFM program, also was unsure whether his group would participate.
"I don't know what if any (input) we would have through (the comment process)," he said.
Bray said Friend of the Sea would be submitting comments. Micaela Vivero, Americas media spokesman for the MSC, declined to discuss the matter directly with SeafoodSource, but through a statement said "MSC welcomes all initiatives that contribute to sustainable fisheries and healthy oceans, and looks forward to aiding the process in any way we can."